Last evening, as I was leaving my house, I ran into my housemate who was just arriving home. Standing in the doorway, both of us holding our bikes, I asked her what she had been up to. “Studying for a copy editing test.” What followed was a brief exploration of what copy editing entailed: the proper usage of an en-dash, a mastery of the chicago manual of style, arcane questions about nouns.
Tedious I thought. The sort of work that I know goes into most things I read, but the sort of careful and invisible work that I regularly disregard.
This morning, on my Facebook feed, I saw an article entitled "Editing as Carework". It clicked. Editing is exactly that sort of invisible labor, the nurturing and caring work that goes into creating common spaces in which the “genius" of the writer can thrive. It is the sort of reproductive labor consigned to private spaces, gendered and ignored. The aching shoulders upon which giants stand.
The myth of the author is just one manifestation of the sovereign subject, not dependent on others with total mastery over their own work. However, as the feminist theorizations of care remind us: this subject is a myth, we enter and leave this world dependent on others. That before anything else, we are brought into this world by others to inhabit a world created by others.
That author’s text that confronts you as so complete, so well crafted? Stitched together by the tireless work of the editor.
The relationship between gendered care labor and gendered textile work has been on my mind as I have been reading (and rereading) Anne Boyer’s beautiful poetry in her book Garments against Women. That careful, methodical work of sewing, first treated as housework, then completed by a gendered proletariat (Emma Goldman included).
The unity of the text or the textile: both fetish objects, metalyptical substitutions of cause for effect, which conceal the social relations of care which constitute them.
The silent work of weaving, the invisible work of care: in labor, laboring for a world in common. A vast web, a woven cloth, a beautiful text.
This labor is how the public is constituted through the act of publication. With every book, a readership, a shared world, an imagined community, communitas and the commons.
(Parenthetically, I might note that editing is more like industrial garment work rather than the unwaged housework of mending: it is integrated into the wage relation, though it is consigned to the background, a type of labor that if done well is invisible. It would be a misstep to treat unwaged (re)productive labor as equivalent to illegible waged work. It would also be a misstep to forget that editing is can be (relatively) well paid. Just ask the exhausted mother taking care of her kids, cooking for her husband, cleaning the house, after a long day of service work, while the editor at the academic press hires a nanny, orders take out or picks up their laundry from the corner on the way home.)
More spaces to explore these themes:
Wages against Housework - Sylvia Federici
Garments against Women - Ann Boyer
Editing as Carework - Sarah Blackwood
Notes on Value - published by Publication Studio
A Book About— - published by Publication Studio
Genevieve Goffman's forthcoming article in Haptic (!!!)
A Very Careful Strike - Precarias a la Deriva
Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography - Gayatri Spivak